Bell, Gawain Murdoch

He came to Winchester as assistant Maths master in September 1900. He was born in 1877, the son of William Henry and Jane Bell of York, and educated at Newcastle-under-Lyme and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1899. The following year he took a First Class in Natural Science. He succeeded Mr. Godfrey in 1905 as chief Mathematical master, and published two books on elementary Mathematics — “The Winchester Arithmetic” (with Mr. Godfrey) and “A Note-Book of Experimental Mathematics”. He made a close study of Geology and collected a number of specimens: he was also a great footballer.

He served for 11 years before the war in the Winchester Volunteer Corps and O.T.C. In 1908 he succeeded Mr. Bramston as Housemaster of Culver’s Close, where he lived with his sister Mary. On the outbreak of war he took a leading part in the organisation of the emergency Officers Training Camp at Tidworth Pennings.

In October 1914 he joined the 11th Battalion Hampshire Regiment, and assisted as company commander in training this Pioneer Battalion of the 16th Division.

NOTE: As a pioneer regiment the 11th Battalion dug trenches and repaired roads, bridges and laid track for light railways. They were generally behind the lines. Bell’s lapel badge in his photo shows the crossed axe and shovel of the regiment.

He later became second-in-command and won the D.S.O. during the Battle of the Somme, awarded in the New Year’s Honours List of 1917 for his time in command, and not for any specific act of gallantry. Later he was present at the capture of the Messines Ridge, and shortly before his death was recommended for the command of a battalion. He fell on the Ypres-Menin Road early in the morning of July 31st 1917, caught in a German barrage whilst overseeing repair work on the road. His wounds proved fatal and he was buried at Brandhoek, near Vlamertinghe.

A photograph of his grave:

Sources: The Hampshire Regimental Journal Vol IX September 1917. Regimental History of the Hampshire Regiment Vol II 1914-1918 by C.T. Atkinson.  Letters from GM Bell to various members of his family: Winchester College Archives: E78/1.  Obituary published in ‘The Wykehamist’ of October 19th, 1917 (no 567).

Later, a gateway in Cloisters (previously known as King Henry’s Door) was re-built and on July 23rd 1921 re-dedicated by the Bishop of Oxford in Bell’s name. As The Wykehamist (612, November 1921) reported: “This doorway had always been a depressing and unsightly feature, not much more than a hole in the wall; and it was a decidedly happy thought of the Headmaster’s to associate our remembrance of Major Bell with the work of redeeming Cloisters from a constant eyesore. Shape and form in solid stone have banished the shapelessness of bricks and plaster; oak replaces dingy deal. In the upper half of the oak is a grille, through which we hope sometimes to be allowed to catch a glimpse of that fresh outdoor life which many of us used to see in G.M. Bell – and saw it not only ‘weather permitting’. On the further side of the door are new stone steps into the Warden’s garden, flanked by a simple stone balustrade.”

War: World War 1

  • Surname: Bell
  • Forenames or initials: Gawain Murdoch
  • House: Staff
  • Years in School: 1900-1914
  • Rank: Major
  • Regiment: Hampshire Regiment
  • Date of Birth: 11th April 1877
  • Date of Death: 31st July 1917
  • How Died: Killed in action
  • Location in War Cloister: Outer G6
  • Decoration: D.S.O.